9 highest general election turnouts since the war

None of the last six elections make this list. Is it time to address the country’s voter turnout problem?


 9. Election 1987

The turnout rate for the 1987 election was 75.3% - almost seven points higher than turnout in the election thirty years later (68.7% in 2017). At this election, Margaret Thatcher secured her third election victory in a row, but was ultimately later replaced by John Major.

8. Election 1979

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher won her first victory of three. At the election, the turnout rate was 76%.

7. Election 1955

Under Churchill, the Conservatives won back the House in 1951. The War-time leader was soon replaced by Anthony Eden who led his Conservative party to victory in 1955 on a 76.8% turnout rate.

6. Election 1964

After years of Tory-rule, Harold Wilson led Labour to victory in 1964. His party won a slim majority on a turnout rate of 77.1%.

5. Election 1992

The fact that this election was seen as likely to be close may have contributed to it having the highest turnout rate since 1959. In the end however, John Major won a decisive victory over Neil Kinnock’s Labour on a turnout rate of 77.7%.

4. Election 1959

Anthony Eden, who had won the Conservatives another majority four years previously, left the top job before the 1959 election as Churchill had done before him. He was replaced by Harold Macmillan who increased the party’s majority on a 78.7% turnout – exactly ten percentage points higher than the turnout in the most recent general election.

3. Election 1974 (February)

The first election of 1974 makes this list while the second does not, suggesting that voters may have had enough of voting that year. In the February election, Harold Wilson became prime minister once more on an impressive turnout rate of 78.8%.

2. Election 1951

In this election, Winston Churchill returned to power, ending six years of Labour-rule on a turnout rate of 82.6%.

1. Election 1950

Churchill’s victory may have gotten the second-top spot, but it was the election before that, which had the highest turnout rate since 1945. Labour won a massive majority five years previously, but the 1950 election significantly reduced it to just five seats on a very impressive turnout rate of 83.9%. Attlee’s second government hobbled along, until 1951 when it called another vote with the aim of improving its majority. They ultimately lost out to Churchill’s Conservatives, but they did win the most votes.

Future turnouts

6th biggest majority since 1945: 1959 (100 seat majority)

After Churchill won the 1951 election, Anthony Eden went on to lead the Conservative party and win the 1955 election. Then, after Eden’s failed premiership, Harold Macmillan took over as prime minister and led his party to victory in 1959, winning them a grand majority of 100 seats.

5th biggest majority since 1945: 1987 (102 seat majority)

Thatcher’s first victory did not make this list, but her second and third ones did. In 1987 her seat-count fell, but her party continued to remain in power for a further ten years, first under her then John Major.

4th biggest majority since 1945: 1983 (144 seat majority)

Four years after coming to power, the 1983 election saw Margaret Thatcher significantly boost her majority, following success in the Falklands and a divided left, due to the rise of the SDP-Liberal Alliance.

3rd biggest majority since 1945: 1945 (146 majority)

The 1945 election led to a massive electoral landslide for Labour, bringing Clement Atlee and his radical, transformative agenda into the control-seat. His government is known for creating the NHS, strengthening the welfare state, and rebuilding Britain after a devastating war. While the government was one of significant change, its majority fell to just five seats after the 1950 election.

One year after that another vote further weakened Labour and returned Winston Churchill’s Conservatives to power.

2nd biggest majority since 1945: 2001 (167 majority)

election turnouts are based off figures from Wikpedia's page of UK general elections, which can be accessed here.

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